Motivation doesn't always come easily, and when it does, getting it to stay can be a challenge in itself! But no need to worry. Leanne Hall, our life coaching and counselling columnist, explains the psychology of motivation plus some expert tips to find your motivation again if it's disappeared.
Self motivation is easy when we start something new. This peak in motivation often causes us to make impressive promises and goals such as, “I’m going to exercise every day and cut out junk food”. “I’m going to study every night and finish all my assessments at least a week before they’re due”. Yep, it’s exciting, and when you’re in-the-moment, and caught up in all that motivation, anything seems possible.
And then it happens. You skip a boot camp session; you miss a couple of classes. All off a sudden you have no motivation. And when it disappears, it leaves you with that all too familiar feeling of “I failed again”. It’s not a nice feeling, and when it hits it’s a reminder that this motivation thing never seems to stick around.
What exactly is motivation?
Like all human emotions and experiences, motivation is multidimensional. Basically, it’s the thing that causes us to act and something that we infer from observing the behaviour of others. It’s the ability to both initiate and persist at a given task.
There are 2 main types of motivation. Intrinsic motivation is the one we really need to aim for. Why? Because it comes from within! It’s that awesome feeling you get after a workout (often induced by endorphins), and it’s a HUGE factor in why we keep pushing ourselves through discomfort.
Extrinsic motivation on the other hand comes from outside. It’s the external reward that we look for, whether it be recognition, a new outfit, or even avoidance of guilt! The problem with this type of motivation is that when the perceived “reward” is either not there or not strong enough to maintain the behaviour – motivation drops.
Think of someone who is trying to lose weight. When their weight “plateaus” (which is completely normal), the “reward” of weight loss is no longer there. This can cause a sudden drop in motivation.
Before we look at ways you can give your motivation a boost during times you feel it slipping away, it’s important to understand that like all emotions – it’s not supposed to stick around permanently. Much like other emotions such as happiness or anger, motivation will ALWAYS come and go. Accepting that this is normal is the first step in learning how to get it back when it starts drifting away.
Know your signs!
Next, it’s important to know the signs and triggers that kill your motivation. Whether it’s skipping gym sessions, or hitting snooze (regularly), as soon as you feel things starting to slip its time to take action. Remember, even Olympic Athletes struggle with motivation from time to time so you’re in good company! Do they quit? NO. They use it as a time to reflect on their training and make the necessary changes to shake things up again and get back on track.
This might mean changing your eating plan – are you restricting too much? Try making changes which see you eating things you enjoy. Are you bored with your training? Try a couple of different gym classes, or find a buddy who can train with you.
When you feel your motivation drop, it’s an opportunity to reflect. It’s easy for things to become stale, and if you don’t keep stepping things up then you won’t see progress. And we all know that progress feeds motivation!
Here are a few handy hints to get your motivation back
1. Set realistic and achievable goals
It might sound obvious, but most of us have at some point made the all to common mistake of setting goals that are either vague or unrealistic. Go back to basics. If you have a large goal, then work out a plan as to how will get there by setting smaller goals (and be specific!). This will help to create a sense of achievement, which will keep you on track.
2. Use rewards
Using extrinsic forms of motivation can certainly give things a boost when you are feeling flat. Start with rewarding small achievements. “If I stick to my training schedule this week, I’ll book in for that massage.
3. Associate with like-minded people
Find people who share your values. This will not only help to create a sense of belonging, but can provide a normative experience where you can feel validated and supported during the tough times. Drawing on the energy of others is also a fantastic way to move through those days/periods when you’re just not feeling it!
4. Find balance
A huge predictor in motivation decline is related to a lack of flexibility and balance. Being overly restrictive and rigid is simply not sustainable….not to mention exhausting! Listen to your body. If you feel the flu coming on, or if that injury isn’t going away, then REST.
5. Have patience
Change and progress takes time. I know I know, we all want to see change NOW, but real sustainable change takes time. Putting too much pressure on ourselves, and having unrealistic expectations is one the biggest motivation killers!
Monitoring your motivation, using reflection, and changing your routine from time to time are all really important when it comes to staying motivated. It’s all about understanding the factors that contribute to a decline in your motivation, so that you can make the necessary changes before it disappears completely. That way, instead of trying to recover something that has been completely lost, you are simply finding something that has been temporarily misplaced, which is SO much easier.
Inspired by Leanne's counselling and life coaching advice? Read more thoughts for better living and life advice from 25 of the web's top counsellors here.